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Johansson, Scarlett


With her tousled blonde hair, full lips, and porcelain complexion, twenty-year-old Scarlett Johansson has become one of the hottest talents in Hollywood. In the mid-2000s her luminous features graced the cover of every fashion magazine, and in late 2004 she became the face of Calvin Klein, tapped to plug a new perfume for the famous designer. But Johansson is more than just a pretty face. Acting since the age of eight, she has appeared in more than twenty films over the course of twelve years ranging from the independent Manny & Lo (1996) and Ghost World (2000), to the Academy Award-nominated Lost in Translation (2003), to 2005’s summer blockbuster The Island. Regardless of the size of the film or how well the movie does at the box office or with critics, Johansson is regularly singled out for her compelling performances. She is widely regarded as one of the most promising young stars of her generation, and according to Carlo Cavagna of, “Johansson is positioned for a huge career, with no foreseeable expiration date.”

Scarlett the big ham

Scarlett Johansson is a native New Yorker, born on November 22, 1984, to Karsten Johansson, a Danish architect, and Melanie Johansson, a homemaker who would one day become her famous daughter’s manager. Scarlett and her twin brother, Hunter (who is younger by three minutes), have an older sister, Vanessa, who is also an actress, and an older brother Adrian. When Scarlett was about seven a friend of her mother’s suggested that the young Johanssons would be perfect for commercials, so Melanie packed up the whole family and took them on the round of casting calls. For Johansson it was a completely overwhelming experience. “It was like being in a beauty pageant,” she told Polly Vernon of the Guardian Unlimited. “The other moms were really scary, and it was awful.”

“Being a movie star is a quality that somebody sort of embodies, and being a celebrity is something that people give to you. I just hope to make good movies.”

But the tough little New Yorker was not discouraged even when casting agents expressed interest in her brother Adrian and not her because Johansson knew that, more than anything else, she wanted to be an actress. “I have always been a big ham,” she went on to tell Vernon. “It’s like I hopped out of the womb and said: I will perform!” In fact, even before auditioning for commercials, Johansson would put on shows for her family and charge them each a dollar to watch. The budding actress’s career was officially launched in 1993 when she appeared in an off-Broadway production of a play called Sophistry, which starred a young Ethan Hawke (c. 1970–), who later became an acclaimed actor in Hollywood.

After Johansson’s brief venture into theater, she began to audition for film roles and never looked back. She explained to Karen Schneider of People, “I started doing movies and that was that.” Johansson’s first role was a small one playing the daughter of actor John Ritter (1948–2003) in the 1994 comedy North. During the next two years, she was given better parts with more dialogue in several mainstream movies, including the thriller Just Cause (1995) and the 1996 Sarah Jessica Parker (1965–) comedy If Lucy Fell.

It was in a small, independent, movie, however, called Manny & Lo (1996) that the youngster received her first taste of critical acclaim. Johansson was praised for her portrayal of streetwise, eleven-year-old Manny, who escapes a foster home with her older, pregnant sister, Lo. The pair ends up kidnapping a quirky woman they meet to help them deliver the baby. For her performance twelve-year-old Johansson earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination. The Independent Spirit Awards are given annually to honor small films that are made outside the large Hollywood system.

Thirteen going on thirty

In 1997 Johansson did appear in one bit of family fare, Home Alone 3, where she played Molly Pruitt, sister of the movie’s child star, Alex Linz. But even at the age of thirteen Johansson exhibited a quiet, intense style of acting, and she already had a raspy, edgy quality to her voice that would eventually become her trademark. Thanks to this maturity Johansson landed a role in The Horse Whisperer (1998), directed by and starring Hollywood legend Robert Redford (1937–). Although the movie focused on the romance between the two adult leads, Johansson played the pivotal role of Grace, a young girl who loses her leg in a riding accident and is severely traumatized. The film was considered to be visually stunning, but in general it was panned as slow-moving and sentimental. Critics, however, applauded its young star, claiming she gave a breakthrough performance. According to Scott Lyle Cohen of Interview, “Johansson’s presence kept the film from the Hollywood glue factory.”

In the press, interviewers observed that off-screen Johansson exhibited a maturity beyond her years. And Redford frequently commented that his young star was “thirteen going on thirty.” This maturity was evident as Johansson sifted through scripts that were coming her way. She wisely chose not to accept roles in slasher movies or fluffy teen films and for awhile Johansson laid low, waiting for just the right part. She told David Ansen of Newsweek, “I thought, ‘I’m in high school, I don’t need to support myself or my family, I’m gonna wait until something better comes along.”‘ For the next two years Johansson focused on high school, becoming an honor student at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan. And she did typical high school things like attending prom, shopping, and eating pizza with her friends.

In 2000 Johansson returned to her independent film roots to costar in the offbeat comedy Ghost World, based on the cult comic-book novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes (1961–). The story follows two best friends whose friendship starts to unravel during the summer following their graduation from high school. Fellow child-star Thora Birch (1982–) took the larger role of Enid, an outspoken, wacky misfit. Johansson played Rebecca, the more subdued and practical of the duo. Critics overwhelmingly praised the film, with Ken Eisner of Variety calling it “by sharp turns poignant, disturbing and hysterically funny.” Johansson in particular was singled out for delivering yet another subtle, masterful performance. For her work, she was honored with a best supporting actress award by the Toronto Film Critics Association.

Anything but lost

Johansson followed Ghost World with small parts in the dramas An American Rhapsody (2001), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), and 2002’s horror-comedy Eight Legged Freaks. She was acting steadily, but nothing could prepare Johansson for 2002, which would turn out to be both a whirlwind of work and a major turning point in her career as she graduated to full-fledged adult roles.

After just one brief lunch meeting, Sofia Coppola (1971–), daughter of famed director Francis Ford Coppola (1939–), signed eighteen-year-old (and just graduated from high school) Johansson for her upcoming independent movie, Lost in Translation (2003). Set in Tokyo, Japan, the film focuses on Charlotte, a young newlywed who is left alone by her photographer husband. Charlotte seeks the companionship of a washed-up, older actor played by Bill Murray (1950–). The two strangers in a strange land form an immediate bond, and according to David Ansen, “Their brief, wondrous encounter is the soul of this subtle, funny, melancholy film.”

Critics felt that Johansson clearly held her own playing opposite Murray, who was thirty-four years her senior. And, according to Coppola, who spoke with Eve Epstein of Variety, “Scarlett has a talent for conveying depth and thoughtfulness without doing too much, for being still and simple, which is hard to do.” Lost in Translation earned a great deal of critical acclaim for its director and its stars, and was nominated for countless awards. In 2004, Johansson took home a Best Actress award from the Boston Society of Film Critics and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). She was also nominated for a Golden Globe best actress award. The Golden Globes are awarded each year by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for outstanding achievement in film and television.

The girl with the pearls

Ten days after shooting wrapped on Translation, Johansson was whisked off to Luxembourg to begin work on her next film, The Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003). The movie is based on the best-selling novel by Tracy Chevalier (1964–) that gives a fictionalized account of the relationship between seventeenth-century Dutch artist Jan Vermeer (1632–1675) and the girl who appears in his famous Pearl Earring painting. Once again Johansson was paired with a much older, seasoned actor, this time in the form of Colin Firth (1960–), who was cast as Vermeer.

Pearl did not receive the same acclaim as Translation. Although critics acknowledged that the scenery was stunning and the movie visually appealing, it was generally ignored. Leah Rozen of People did point out that Johansson, as Vermeer’s muse and model Griet, “gleams quietly.” And Carlo Cavagna remarked that with Pearl , “Johansson proves she belongs firmly in the top tier of film actors.” For her performance the young star nabbed a best actress nomination from both BAFTA and the Hollywood Foreign Press.

Polly Vernon of the Guardian Unlimited agreed with Cavagna and wrote that 2004 belonged to Johansson in a “high-octane sort of way. . . . She graduated from exquisitely promising starlet-on-the-verge, to fully blown movie establishment.” Thanks to her success in 2004 Johansson was, indeed, firmly established in the Hollywood system and she virtually had her pick of parts. In 2004, alone, she released four movies, including The Perfect Score, A Good Woman, and In Good Company, which costarred up-and-comer Topher Grace (1978–). Johansson also found time to lend her voice to Mindy in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.

The most important film for Johansson in 2004 was A Love Song for Bobby Long, since it garnered the actress her third Golden Globe nomination in two years. Long was another small film that featured a big name, costar John Travolta (1954–), and again Johansson overshadowed her costar. The movie did not fare well at the box office or with critics, but Johansson as Pursy Hominy Will, a young woman who returns to New Orleans to reclaim her childhood home, received her usual round of applause. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly claimed that Johansson instills in Pursy an “unflustered intelligence,” and that the “arresting actress is a welcome to this otherwise unmemorable party.”

Navigating the shores of stardom

Johansson’s manager-mother, Melanie, received a producer credit for Bobby Long, primarily because she helped to get the project off the shelf and into production. This probably will not be her last producer credit, since Johansson now has the clout to push her favorite projects forward. For example, since she received a copy of the book Marjorie Morningstar for her seventeenth birthday, the young actress has been trying to launch a remake of the 1958 movie of the same name. The book was written in 1955 by American author Herman Wouk (1915–); the 1958 movie starred legendary screen actress Natalie Wood (1939–1981).

In the meantime Johansson’s plate is more than full. In 2005, she released two movies: Match Point, a film by celebrated director Woody Allen (1935–), and The Island, a futuristic thriller that centers on two clones on the run from a high-tech cloning facility. When asked why she decided to do her first action movie, Johansson explained to Paul Fischer of, “It was just a great script. Exciting and fun. I love genre movies when they’re done really well and I think they accomplish what a film is trying to do, which is allow you to escape your life for a couple of hours.”

The busy Johansson also had three movies slated for a 2006 release: The Black Dahlia, directed by famous filmmaker Brian DePalma (1940–), the drama A View from the Bridge, and a second Woody Allen offering. In addition, there were rumors that British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948–) was eyeing the film star to play Maria in a London stage revival of the musical The Sound of Music.

According to Peter Webber, the director of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who spoke with Eve Epstein, “There’s something of the classic movie star in [Johansson], but the hard part will be navigating the treacherous shores of stardom.” So far, the former child actress has managed to keep herself afloat quite well, taking her fame in stride. In late 2004 she was chosen as the face of a new perfume by designer Calvin Klein (1942–) called Eternity Moment. As reported on PR Newswire, Calvin Klein executive Kim Vernon commented that “Scarlett is a talented young force that exudes sophistication and confidence that is not readily seen today, and she balances it all with a relaxed attitude and a sense of humor.”

As sophisticated as she appears, Johansson is still a kid at heart. When she turned twenty in December 2004, part of her celebration included a stop at Disneyland, where she got Mickey Mouse’s autograph. Later that night her mother threw her a party at a top Hollywood nightspot decorated with Eeyore and Little Mermaid balloons. As for her future, Johansson faces it with her usual calm and frank demeanor. And she remains committed to the career she took up when she was in elementary school. “Making movies is all I ever wanted,” Johansson admitted to People. “I don’t plan on retiring until I die.”

For More Information


Ansen, David. “Scarlett Fever: Meet Ms. Johansson, an 18-year-old Who Doesn’t Act Her Age.” Newsweek (September 15, 2003): p. 64.

Cohen, Scott Lyle. “Scarlett Johansson: Making the Competition See Red.” Interview (July 2001): p. 22.

Eisner, Ken. “Review of Ghost World.Variety (June 25, 2001): p. 22.

Epstein, Eve. “Scarlett Fever.” Variety(December 8, 2003): p. S38–47.

Fuller, Graham. “Scarlett Johansson: We Live in a New Age That Needs New Love Stories, and New Presences to Tell Them. Here Is an Actress Born for these Roles.” Interview (September 2003): pp. 188–94.

Jensen, Jeff. “The New Ingenues.” Entertainment Weekly (November 14, 2003): p. 56.

Lynch, Jason. “Scarlett Fever.” People (January 24, 2005): p. 95.

Rozen, Leah. “Review of Girl with a Pearl Earring.People (January 26, 2004): p. 27.

“Scarlett Johansson Signed as Face for Calvin Klein Fragrance.” P R Newswire (February 17, 2004).

Schneider, Karen S. “Real Attitude: A Movie Vet at 18, Lost in Translation’s Scarlett Johansson Can Still Use a Hug.” People (October 6, 2003): p. 113.

Schwarzbaum, Lisa. “Review of A Love Song for Bobby Long.Entertainment Weekly (January 28, 2005): p. 64.


Scarlett Johansson Is a Redhead! (Again!)

Scarlett Johansson Is a Redhead! (Again!)

Scarlett Johansson is back to her hair-color-changing ways—she’s dyed her short blond strands a bright red. Photographers grabbed a glimpse of it while she was on her way to a U2 concert last night.


This continues the past 24 hours’ big hair-change trend, with Jenna Dewan-Tatum going shorter and Real Housewife Kyle Richards sporting curls. As for what triggered Scarlett’s makeover, perhaps she was inspired by her red Avengers hair (since she’s shooting the next Captain America, a movie within the Avengers world). Maybe she just missed the way strawberry tones warm up her skin. Or maybe she just feels right when her hair color matches her first name. Whatever the reason behind the switch, we’re curious to see what it looks like without a hat on top.

Scarlett Johansson Opens Up

Scarlett Johansson Opens Up

From big-budget blockbusters to acclaimed independent films, Johansson’s path to success has been anything but obvious. Now pregnant and engaged to be married, the actress discusses the next challenge on the horizon: balancing family and career

IN THE SNOW, New York City becomes a fantasy version of itself. A blanket of winter weather slows this frantic city down, hushes the hurly-burly, covers it in a quiet beauty that turns a mundane walk into a romantic stroll. Snowy New York is the New York you dreamed of: old-fashioned, elegant, irresistible. Until a city bus plows by at 40 mph and sprays you with muddy, brown slush.

I am going to meet Scarlett Johansson for lunch, and the midday snowfall somehow feels appropriate. By now it’s a thoroughly accepted premise that Johansson is herself a romantic throwback, a bit of an old-fashioned fantasy—a smoky-voiced reminder of a lush, more glamorous show-business era. I believe this makes me the 100,000th person to describe Johansson as “smoky-voiced,” for which I should have my computer keyboard stripped and tossed into the Hudson. But the cliché is true. So is the throwback part. Johansson’s choice of a meeting location today is not a sleek, modern aerie with angular furniture and Euro-disco, but the Carlyle Hotel, off Madison Avenue, a low-lit classic merrily frozen in time.
From big-budget blockbusters to acclaimed independent films, Scarlett Johansson’s path to success has been anything but obvious. Jason Gay spoke with Johannson for this month’s WSJ. Magazine cover story, and joins the News Hub to discuss what’s next for the actress. Photo: Alasdair McLellan for WSJ. Magazine.

In the snow, I am 20 minutes late. She is 25 minutes late. This is OK. It doesn’t feel like a day to rush. When she arrives, she’s dressed in a black goose-down coat, a thick striped sweater and black wool pants, and she is wearing a pair of tortoiseshell eyeglasses that would comfortably fit on the nose of a prep-school English teacher. There is quick chatter about the weather and the craziness and the way the taxis and buses were swerving all over the road. And of course how this city looks perfect through it all. “A lot of people have that thing in New York where they need to get out—they’re like, ‘Oh you have to get out in order to love it,’ ” Johansson says. “I never had that.”

And yet she doesn’t live here anymore. At least not as much as she used to. Johansson grew up in New York, a kid actor who attended the Professional Children’s School on West 60th Street, but she now spends most of her life in Paris, on the Left Bank, with her fiancé, Romain Dauriac, a former magazine editor turned creative director of a French ad agency. (Is Dauriac actually her fiancé? It’d been rumored for months. “Yes, we’re engaged,” Johansson confirms.) At the moment, she is amid a mild dustup with her adopted country, after joking on David Letterman’s talk show about the rudeness of Parisians. The comment was intended more as a wry observation than a scorching rebuke, but not everyone saw the humor. “You’re allowed to complain about places you live, because you love them,” Johansson explains. “Then I got off the stage and I go, ‘Oh my God, did I just offend a nation of people?’ ”

Johansson said that Dauriac called and reassured her that her comments were accurate, that everyone in France says the same kinds of things about pushy Parisians. “But of course his father called him and said, ‘What is she smoking? What is she thinking?’ ” She laughs ruefully. “Hopefully they will accept me back there.”

THE FIRST TIME I met Johansson was around the time she appeared—arrived is probably a better word—in Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s subdued comedy set in Tokyo in which Johansson’s character, Charlotte, develops an unlikely friendship with a lonely movie star played by Bill Murray. It is crazy to think that Lost is more than 10 years old. Small but critically acclaimed, the film turned the then-teenaged Johansson (who had already appeared in movies like The Horse Whisperer, Manny & Lo and Ghost World) into an instant sensation, the ingenue of ingenues. When I encountered her, she had platinum blond hair and spent part of the interview trying to teach herself how to care for a Japanese Tamagotchi egg (remember those?). The crush of fame around her felt bright, new, fragile. Unspoken was how Hollywood could be cruel, especially on young actors. Who knew how this all would go?

It is more than a decade later and Johansson, now 29, is one of the most successful actresses of her generation—relevant, bankable, and all those terrible, tacky words. But her success owes itself less to any kind of star-making algorithm than it does a willingness to step outside expectations and experiment. “She is not the kind of person or actress who has a master plan that she follows,” says Rob Ashford, who directed Johansson in her 2013 Broadway turn as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. “Her master plan is to keep working on projects that interest her, to continue being challenged.”

At the moment, Johansson is fresh off the success of Her, Spike Jonze’s moodily sweet romance starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with his operating system. Johansson plays the OS. It’s an unusual role: Johansson is heard and never seen, and yet she imbues Samantha with such soul that she becomes a vivid character, as if fully fleshed. Johansson was a late arrival to the project—Jonze had already filmed a version of Samantha with the actress Samantha Morton—and she is magnanimous about her predecessor’s contribution, calling the final product “sort of a combination of both of us.” Recording was harder than expected. Some scenes were filmed on a soundstage with Johansson housed in what she called “a tiny little isolated prison booth,” often with Phoenix visible in the distance.

‘”I don’t want to be the ingenue anymore. It’s nice to be glamorous, but I don’t want to always be an object of desire. Because it doesn’t last.”’
——Scarlett Johansson

The performance ended up being among the most celebrated of Johansson’s career. Though one critic was not convinced. At the moment, Johansson is the target of an amusing (and one-way) feud with Siri of the iPhone, who, after a playful intervention by Apple programmers, described Johansson’s OS as “artificial.”

What the hell. When am I going to get this chance again? I remove my iPhone from my pocket and ask in the presence of the real thing: “What do you think of Scarlett Johansson?”

“I don’t think she’s going to have an opinion,” Johansson says.

Siri pings a curt response: “I really couldn’t say.”

Interpret Siri how you wish. Her was the latest example of the auteur credibility and collaboration that has defined Johansson’s career. Already she’s worked with Robert Redford, Sofia Coppola, Woody Allen (three times), the Coen Brothers and Jonze. She also made a stunningly well-received run on Broadway as Catherine in A View From the Bridge, winning a Tony Award. But a few years back she realized there was something she hadn’t accomplished, and wanted: a role in a juicy blockbuster, some of that good buttery popcorn stuff. There had been unsuccessful attempts: 2005’s The Island, directed by Michael Bay, and The Spirit, written and directed by Frank Miller, which quickly came and went in 2008. She wanted to give it another try. She’d seen Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man and was struck by the intelligence wrapped around all that CGI. “I was like, I want to be part of something big like that,” Johansson recalls. “I want to be in a really successful, huge film that’s good and works.”

Her candor on this subject is refreshing—actors tend to be circumspect about their career goals, and especially any commercial motivations. But a butt-kicking part held other appeals to Johansson. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” she says. “I wanted to stretch myself physically, out of my comfort zone, and still succeed. I’m probably like most actors. We have huge egos, and you want to know you can be successful, no matter what. I don’t want to be pigeonholed in one genre or budget or whatever.”

Her breakthrough came in, of all things, 2010’s Iron Man 2, in which Johansson debuted as the cat-suited Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, of the Marvel comic universe. The sequel was a massive hit. Then Johansson’s Natasha headlined in Joss Whedon’s Avengers, alongside Downey Jr.’s Iron Man as well as actors like Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America). Like Iron Man, Avengers paired its razzle-dazzle with genuine actor cred, and the film was catnip for superfans and mainstream audiences. Avengers earned an astonishing $1.5 billion worldwide, putting its all-time revenues behind only Avatar and Titanic.

“I don’t think anybody could have predicted how successful it would be,” Johansson says. “It was bananas. Totally bananas.”

She’d found her franchise. Johansson’s Natasha will be seen in April with Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and of course there will be Avengers 2, scheduled to arrive in 2015. The films have broadened Johansson’s audience in unforeseen ways. “My friends’ kids are way more into me than they were before,” she says. “I don’t think they were even allowed to see half the movies I’m in. And now, kids are like, ‘Does Captain America have a sister?’ All these questions. ‘Who would win a fight between…’ I get a lot of that.”

Should the success continue, there’s no reason the Avengers franchise can’t last for many years and spin-offs, though Johansson says the physical demands of her action parts are taking a toll. She ticks off her injury inventory: a painful wrist that “drives me nuts,” knee aches, pain on the side of her body. “I have all kinds of crazy things.”

At least Natasha is not a full-time job. The same weekend the big-budget Captain America sequel arrives, Johansson will also be seen in Under the Skin, an arresting indie directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast). Johansson plays an alien who preys on a string of men in rainy Glasgow, but that description barely scratches the full experience. Under the Skin is a striking, occasionally terrifying film about identity, with long, nonverbal stretches and hauntingly beautiful cinematography. It sinks into the bones, gradually, uneasily, and is unlike anything Johansson has ever done. Johansson spent many sessions discussing the film with Glazer, a director she admired, without being certain the film would become a reality. “There are several directors with whom I’ve had kind of a creative relationship, but have never worked with,” she says. “We like to imagine that we will, but who knows?” (Johansson’s spare performance did not surprise Glazer. “Good actors are able to tackle different roles,” the director says matter-of-factly.)

While there’s an ocean of difference between Under the Skin and a feel-great popcorn blockbuster, Johansson glides naturally between the two. She seems uninterested in taking any obvious path. “I’d rather take the chance of a film not working than be stuck in a pattern of making the same movie over and over,” she says. Getting older doesn’t unnerve her, either. “I don’t want to be the ingenue anymore,” she says. “That part I’m happy about. It’s nice to be glamorous, but I don’t want to always have to be trendy and glamorous and an object of desire. I don’t want to be stuck in that forever. Because it doesn’t last.”

That level-headedness is a Johansson trademark. “If you took Scarlett’s career from her tomorrow, she wouldn’t change,” says Evans, aka Captain America, who describes Johansson as his “older sister,” even though she’s a few years younger than him. “If you gave her an Oscar, she wouldn’t change. She is who she is.”

Still, Johansson speaks with urgency about the tension actresses often feel between balancing their careers and personal lives, particularly on the subject of family. It’s a topic that turns out to have happy urgency: A couple of months after we meet, reports will arrive that Johansson and Dauriac are expecting a child. “It seems so stressful to not be able to spend time with your family because you’re constantly chasing the tail of your own success,” Johansson says. She continues: “There must exist a world in which I can balance those things, be able to raise a family and still make a film a year, or work on my own, develop things, do theater. I want to be able to have it all.” She laughs. “Selfishly.”

“I know that with that there will be some sacrifices. I know that’s the struggle with working mothers and successful careers. It happens.” But the scent of double standard is obvious, and Johansson doesn’t shy from it. “With [male actors] it just doesn’t happen that way. You can be every woman’s fantasy, and nobody thinks twice about the fact that you have eight kids or whatever.”

She has learned to roll with the maddening frustrations of the business, and she hasn’t been unscathed by the celebrity grind. There was a marriage and divorce to actor Ryan Reynolds, a breakup that played out on the covers of supermarket magazines. There was a terribly invasive hacking crime in which Johansson’s (and other celebrities’) private information and photographs were stolen; the perpetrator was sentenced to 10 years in prison. “A bumpy time,” is how she describes that period. “But I always intended to get off that crazy gossip wagon and back to my regular life.”

A few weeks after we meet, Johansson finds herself embroiled in an international controversy when protesters take exception to her paid relationship with SodaStream, an Israel-based company with a plant in a West Bank settlement. Oxfam, the charitable relief organization with which Johansson had worked for more than eight years, is troubled by the partnership, and Johansson and Oxfam split. Writing in the Huffington Post—her only comment on the matter— Johansson said she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement… as part of my affiliation with SodaStream,” and defended the company as being committed to “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine.” (That tempest was accompanied by a milder one over Johansson’s SodaStream Super Bowl commercial, which was censored pregame, and then allowed to air in a revised version.)

As her thirties approach, Johansson seems content to fly low to the ground. Her relationship with Dauriac, whom she met in 2012, is not wild gossip fodder. “Our life is quiet,” she says. (As evidence, the couple has been mercifully spared a mortifying relationship acronym. “Scar-Ro? Scar-Main?” Johannson jokingly suggests.) She is vague about wedding timing (“our plan is to get married at some point”), but she admits that her French is rusty. Dauriac’s family mostly speaks French around her, but at home the couple usually sticks to English. “When you’re in a relationship with somebody and you’re communicating with them, you want to be as clear and concise as possible. We try to speak French a little, but it’s mostly like, ‘I like this sandwich.’ ‘That’s a nice color.’ ” She intended to take a month off and study French with a tutor. “You go out, you go to a museum, order lunch, try to do a conversation.”

Afternoon beckons. It is time to go. Johansson pulls on her down jacket. Paris may be sublime. But outside, it continues to snow, transforming New York into a captivating city that still very much feels like Scarlett Johansson’s kind of town.

friv, kizi, yepi, 85play


Why Fans Want Scarlett Johansson Removed From this Upcoming Film Read more at

Why Fans Want Scarlett Johansson Removed From this Upcoming Film Read more at

This January, eminently billable bombshell Scarlett Johansson signed on to star in an upcoming adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, and for a moment nerds across America rejoiced. A Japanese franchise launched in 1989, Ghost in the Shell explores heady issues of identity and control in a techno-enhanced future through the character of Major Motoko Kusanagi, a human consciousness in an android body who fights crime in Tokyo. The franchise gained a small but loyal American fan base (including the Wachowski siblings) when the series’ first movie made it into US theatres in 1995, and for a time, fans were satisfied with dubs of Japanese manga, anime, and movies in the franchise. But in 2008 Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks acquired the rights to remake the classic series, piquing hopes nationwide for a blockbuster that would coax Americans aboard the cyber-dystopian party train. Ever since, we’ve waited for years as the project languished in development hell—until Johansson’s involvement finally kickstarted the long-awaited project, revving it into production starting next January or February for a projected April 2017 release date.

After such a long and eager wait, it’s easy to understand why, for a split second, all of us who love the original movie got excited. But for many, the joy soured quickly to a tired and jaded despair as everyone realized that Johansson’s casting, while a major catalyst moving the remake forward, was yet another example in a long tradition of Hollywood whitewashing foreign characters. Usually, such realizations just lead to grumblings on select corners of the internet. But for loyal fans of Ghost in the Shell, a series whose plots and themes are deeply inured in questions of identity and a Japanese cultural and historical context, this was a step too far. Within a month, a fan named Julie Rodriguez had organized a petition urging Dreamworks to replace Johansson in the remake, which has since drawn tens of thousands of signatories, a wide swath of social media support, and mass media commentary. It’s a rush of attention that has once again brought whitewashing front and center, and poses a serious question as to whether big studios can respond to widespread outrage over major social concerns.

The fact that whitewashing doesn’t come up more often in major discussions of Hollywood is sad and reflective of a certain industry complacency, given how old and entrenched the problem is. All the way back in 1915, at the dawn of America’s feature film industry, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation saw fit to portray a number of white actors in blackface. Over the years, the blatant offensiveness of race-bending characters slowly faded, but the practice held strong. Just last year, Exodus: Gods and Kings drew heavy scorn for using an almost all-Caucasian cast to portray explicitly Middle Eastern and North African characters, despite the existence of many qualified actors and actresses who better fit the setting of the movie.


Anna May Wong

Asian characters alone have faced a shocking amount of whitewashing throughout film history. Back in 1935, the film version of The Good Earth, a tale of a Chinese village before World War I, didn’t even consider the first major Chinese-American actress—the eternally-typecast Anna May Wong—for the lead role of O-Lan, giving it instead to the German actress Luise Rainer. Throughout the mid-1900s, studio executives decided to have John Wayne play Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, Marlon Brando play a Japanese interpreter in The Teahouse of the August Moon, and Mickey Rooney play a Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s—all very irksome and troubling portrayals. And even today, amongst a host of questionable recent castings, Marvel (of all brands) decided to cast Tilda Swinton as Tibetan character “The Ancient One” in their 2016 adaptation of Dr. Strange. That’s part-and-parcel with a trend found in a study from 2013 (cited by the Ghost in the Shell petitioners), which showed that only 4.4 percent of all speaking roles in top-grossing Hollywood films go to Asian people—a number even more dire than the mere 10.5 percent of lead Hollywood roles that go to minority actors in general.

Ever since this practice began to raise hackles, Hollywood executives and directors alike have defended it on financial grounds, arguing that some movies are so costly to produce that they need the allure of established stars to draw a crowd. Most billable actors fit for a given role, they argue, happen to be of one race or another. Speculation goes that Johansson’s star power was the only thing Spielberg and company could use to drag their project out of development hell and into production. Plus, executives assert, for many roles that aren’t explicitly about racial conflict or issues, casting across ethnicities in one direction or another shouldn’t matter. After all, they made Idris Elba a Nordic deity in the Thor franchise, and the only people calling foul on that race-bending move were flaming, vitriolic racists.

In the case of Johansson, defenders of the casting have been able to launch an especially strong case for her taking a lead role based on the actress’s cinematic trajectory of late. In the Marvel Universe and in 2014’s (dreadful) Lucy, she showed an aptitude for high-octane sci-fi action, which the intensely choreographed superhuman battles of Ghost in the Shell would require. And in 2013’s Her, she demonstrated the uncanny ability to bring humanity to a machine via minimalist expressions and emotions befitting a cyborg character grappling with her own technological existence.


Rinko Kikuchi. Image by Marco Albanese via Wikimedia Commons

Yet the studio argument about profits just doesn’t hold water like it used to. America is not lacking for highly recognized and high-grossing Asian and Asian-American stars these days, like Daniel Dae Kim, Jackie Chan, John Cho, and Ken Watanabe on the male side and Gong Li, Maggie Q, Ming-Na Wen, Sandra Oh, and Ziyi Zhang on the female side. Ghost in the Shell fans have pushed Lucy Liu of popular Kill Bill ass-kickery, and Chiaki Kuriyama, the less-known terror of Battle Royale and Kill Bill (in which Kuriyama played Liu’s henchwoman, Gogo Yubari) as potential replacements for Johansson. But fans eager to replace the American actress seem especially fond of Rinko Kikuchi, who became the first Japanese woman nominated for an Oscar in 57 years for her work in Babel. Kikuchi also proved her ability to draw crowds to a financially successful (if critically underwhelming) sci-fi franchise as Mako Mori in 2013’s Pacific Rim, a movie that generally proved you could make a multicultural, international cast into a financial success. Kikuchi’s Mori was also an unusually nuanced “tough female character,” putting her on par with whatever performance and action chops Johansson can bring to Ghost in the Shell as an actress.

Arguments that one could easily recast the race of the characters in Ghost in the Shell don’t fly either, given the themes of the source material. The franchise is rooted in Japan’s post-WWII experience, seeded with notions of the nation’s resistance to American imperialism in a dystopic future, and entirely based in questions of identity that make this racial shift especially ironic. Within this context, casting Johansson, who has recently been embroiled in disputes over her role as spokesperson for Israeli firm SodaStream (a company implicated in controversial activities in the West Bank), and whose character in Lucy was blatantly dehumanizing towards disposable Asian characters (cast more like setting than people), seems particularly tone deaf, stoking special levels of fan anger and disappointment.

Some have pointed out that we’re not sure that Johansson will be playing lead Motoko Kusanagi at all. The creative team may choose to drastically alter the story of Ghost in the Shell, perhaps shifting the setting to America (as was done in 2014’s Godzilla) and refocusing away from the Japanese cultural undertones and themes. That, you could argue, would be disappointing, but possibly not as offensive.


Ghost in Shell movie poster

Unfortunately, this would just put Dreamworks into a whole new trap. Just as issues of whitewashing have come to a head with casting Johansson as a beloved and thoroughly Japanese character, Americanizing this franchise would only dredge up American cinema’s little-known and never-acknowledged borrowings from anime. In 1999 The Matrix pulled some of its best moves from anime, while Darren Aronofsky pulled some shots directly from the 1997 anime Perfect Blue into his Black Swan. And 2014’s shockingly good Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt vehicle Edge of Tomorrow was an explicit but largely unmentioned remake of the 2004 manga All You Need Is Kill. For many, these largely unacknowledged invocations have been a little recognized form of appropriation from a vibrant cinematic scene tantamount to whitewashing. And again, given the themes of Ghost in the Shell, it’d be just too ironic.

This all boils down to a fairly compelling situation, where a devoted fan base has been able to raise solid and valid critiques against increasingly anemic studio arguments in a very public forum. As the petition against Johansson’s casting gains steam, it’ll be a good referendum on just how democratically Hollywood can respond to a fair debate and real concerns aired in the public commons. But this movement on its own will probably still be unsuccessful at getting Johansson replaced for the simple fact that Hollywood isn’t a democracy—it’s an industry.

Ghost in the Shell’s producers and casting agents know that for all the outrage Johansson’s casting has generated, they can still make this project go forward. And the broad appeal of putting her in skimpy lingerie and having her kick cybernetic butt will be enough to turn over a solid profit for the franchise. Ghost in the Shell fans can’t argue right now that the attention they’re getting will cut into that profit in any serious way, or that casting say, Kikuchi, could replace Johansson’s celebrity value. (Although that’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma because the whitewashing impulse of the industry has never given most Asian actors a chance to demonstrate their bankability.) But though the campaign to replace Johansson is unlikely to succeed, in a wider sense, it seems that things might be changing.


Emma Stone as Anna Ng in Aloha

The Ghost in the Shell controversy is just one in a string of widespread, increasingly public and enduring anti-whitewashing campaigns. This June, Cameron Crow was forced to issue a half-apology for casting Emma Stone as the quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian Anna Ng in his freshly released Aloha. Then in July, Marvel publicly apologized for the mistake of designing a white Miss America in its LEGO Avengers game (ignoring the character’s Latin American heritage). And in August, a series of street protests and demonstrations against Roland Emmerich’s whitewashing people of color, trans people, and trans people of color out of their prominent role in the history behind his Stonewall drew intense, prolonged, and ongoing media coverage. The director, lead actor, and writer of the film were all eventually compelled to offer public justifications for the Stonewall’s production decisions.

None of the anti-whitewashing movements this year forced a deep, industry-wide apology or commitment to change. But they prove that studios can no longer just shrug off the issue. These recent movements also proved that anti-whitewashing sentiment seems to be getting wider and more aggressive, taking increasingly bold and public action rather than just grumbling itself out in think pieces and the isolation of theatre seats. As this momentum builds, studios may start to feel more costs associated with whitewashing—critical panning, the bad publicity of protests, and decreased ticket sales.

With the growing backlash against whitewashing, the next time a well-founded case arises against a bad casting call, studios might change their calculus, deciding that responding to the criticism dovetails with their own fiscal interests and acting accordingly. That’s especially true if that call is prophylactic rather than retroactive, like the pre-emptive campaign launched this spring discouraging Disney from whitewashing the presently uncast remake of Mulan. In order for that calculus to change, though, activists need to keep up the pressure on filmmakers directly or inadvertently involved in whitewashing. We need a continuous barrage of well-reasoned and grounded commentary. Thankfully, this summer’s events make it seem like that’s something society is probably up to—more so than ever before.
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